A few weeks ago, a friend told me about a difficult meeting she’d attended, in which she hadn’t felt respected by one man. She considered making a formal complaint about this man, but she felt so angry she couldn’t find the words.
As we talked, she began to see that maybe all wasn’t quite as she’d thought.
We decided to take a closer look at the belief that was causing her distress: “I want him to respect me.”
The way we did this was with The Work. This is a very simple process that has some similarities to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but also significant differences. For many people, including me, it brings increased awareness, mindfulness and calm. I’ve come to see that Byron Katie, the founder of The Work, was correct when she said that it is not what happens to us that causes our stress, but what we think about what happens.
Oddly enough, believing you want or need someone to respect you is stressful.
When we try to create change from a state of stress, it rarely lasts.
Investigating stressful thoughts
I asked my friend, “You want him to respect you. Is that true?”
She replied, “Yes.”
“Do you absolutely know it’s true?”
At first she said yes. Then she began to tell me why it was true, what he had done that was so bad.
When we do this, we are no longer doing the work, but again believing the stories that caused our stress in the first place. This isn’t right or wrong – but it’s not likely to bring us any release or insights. I explained this, and asked again, “Do you absolutely know you need him to respect you?”
“No,” she said.
“How to you react when you think that thought?”
My friend noticed that when she believed the thought she felt angry. She didn’t listen to what the person said, but to the commentary in her own mind. She didn’t respect him. She looked for evidence to back up her belief, to “prove” she was right.
As she talked, I began to think – how do I react when I believe someone should respect me? What came to my mind was that when I believe my children should respect me, and it seems that they don’t, I feel attacked and annoyed, and I get defensive.
And who would you be without the thought?
I would think, “What’s bothering them?” It would no longer be personal, about me.
That’s pretty much what my friend noticed too.
Turning stressful thoughts around
Things got even more interesting when we came to the turnarounds. (For these, you turn the original thought around, to its opposite, or to yourself. The aim is not to blame yourself instead of the other person but to find turnarounds that feel genuinely truer and healing. If it hurts, you are most likely blaming and shaming yourself and that won’t help you heal.)
The first of these was:
I don’t want him to respect me.
Because when someone doesn’t (seem to) respect me, I get to see my own lack of self-respect mirrored in them. That might seem strange, but every time I believe someone doesn’t respect me, in reality I am creating a story about why I think they don’t, and that is always based on my beliefs about what’s wrong with me. The same was true for my friend. None of us are immune from this – we assume other people’s intentions based on what we think and feel.
Here’s an example of what I mean from years ago. It kept coming into my mind after that conversation with my friend – as you read it you’ll see why!
It was the last posting date for Christmas parcels and I had several to get ready. Our girls were still small then, and for reasons I can’t remember, I didn’t want to take them to the post office with me (most likely one of them was ill.) My husband was at work, but due home well before the post office closed. Except I wasn’t ready when he got home, and so I arrived about 15 minutes before closing time to find a long queue. When I reached the counter, a post worker arrived to collect the day’s mail and the man behind the counter stopped serving me.
I protested. He said I’d come far too late, so it was just too bad if my parcels didn’t go.
Meantime the cashier at the next window kept serving people who had arrived after me. (Pointing that out got me nowhere!)
How did this man reflect my own lack of self-respect? Most of the morning I had felt annoyed at myself – because I believed I should have been more organised and got ready earlier! I thought I wasn’t good enough and I felt ashamed. It hurt to face that shame, so I tried to push it away, but that cashier’s behaviour was pointing me straight to both it and the belief that drove it, had I only been able to see that then. As I entered the post office, I already felt ashamed. I expected disapproval – and I got it.
My friend realised something very similar about the situation in which she had wanted respect. She saw that her part in it had been to believe rumours about this man being intimidating, and so she’d gone into the meeting expecting him to bully her. That affected how she behaved towards him.
The irony is that without the thought both of us would have felt good enough.
I continued doing the turnarounds on that time in the post office. The next one was:
Yes, because then I show them how I’d like to be treated.
I feel happier when I respect others.
I feel calmer and more self-respecting, when I respect others.
That brings me to the next turnaround:
I want me to respect me.
If I had respected me in that situation in the post office, it would probably never have happened!
Why we cling on to unhelpful beliefs
When it feels so much better to let go of beliefs like this, why do we cling on? It’s not because we are stupid, but because we believe that if we don’t we will allow others to push us around, walk all over us, mess us about. We think that if we don’t believe someone should respect us that they won’t.
Yet believing this, doesn’t make anyone respect us, and often leads us to behave in ways not likely to garner respect! I whined at the man in the post office, I snapped at him. I almost burst into tears. I didn’t say to him, “I guess you feel frustrated when people turn up near closing time. Maybe you don’t feel respected, and fear that people will walk all over you if you don’t make a stand. I’m truly sorry I arrived so late, and next time I have parcels to post I’ll be sure to get them ready in plenty of time.”
That feels better! Notice that while doing this, I realised that he didn’t feel respected either – so yet another way he mirrored me!
The more we look inside, the more we realise that other people are not our enemy, but the key to our freedom.
And respect begins with us.